Ant Eater

A child’s mispronunciation causes a great deal of trouble

I supposed I should have realised from the start that it was all down to mispronunciation, especially after trying to instil the correct way of speaking into my children, but I didn’t, I was slow and due to that a problem that should have been sorted swiftly caused a great deal of distress, although looking back I have to admit, it was rather funny in a way.

It all began the day that our youngest son David went to school not long after the newspapers had reported on people keeping wild animals as pets and his teacher, Mrs Duncan, began an assignment on keeping warm during the winter.

David’s essay told her that much of our heating was down to a wood burner that his father kept fuelled with logs from old trees he had felled around the farm. That bit was fine, no problem there. It was the next paragraph that had her hand reaching for the nearest telephone, as she read with astonishment, ‘at night my ant eater keeps me warm.’

Quizzing David at play time, the head teacher, Mrs Blackthorne was equally troubled, “David, tell Mrs Duncan and I, how you keep warm at night.”

An older child might have realised that her tone implied that Mrs Blackthorne was alarmed about something but at seven years of age, David was more concerned about telling them what they wanted to know and going outside to play. Therefore, he replied innocently, “My ant eater keeps me warm.” And he did not notice the anxious glance that passed between Mrs Duncan and Mrs Blackthorne and neither did he hear as he returned to his game, the outcome of their questioning.

“I’ll ring his mother. We’d best check before we contact the authorities.”

I guess you’ve heard of Murphy’s Law? It’s a polite way of saying Sod’s law, and it came into full play that day, as it does. I’m never out. That is in my line of work I am at home six days out of seven. Out only to shop two mornings a week, and Joel, my eldest son is never home. When he isn’t at work he’s out with his mates. But the day, that Mrs Blackthorne chose to ring, the opposite happened. I was out and Joel took the call.


“Can I speak to Mrs. Robinson please?”

“She’s out. Oo is it?”

“It’s Mrs Blackthorne here, head teacher of Oakwood Primary School.” She got no further as Joel interrupted, “Is David okay?” I only know all this since Joel had left the answer machine on.

“He’s fine, I just needed to ask Mrs. Robinson a question. And you are?”

“It’s Joel. Her son.”

“Oh, right. Well then Joel, perhaps you can answer my question.”

“I’ll try.”

There was a distinctive pause. She was lucky for had she not of spoken when she did, Joel would have put the phone down for his repetitive ‘hello, hello’ was met with nothing until finally she said, “I’m still here. Sorry but this is rather difficult to explain. Joel, David tells us that he keeps warm with the aid of your anteater. Is that correct?”

“Its not my eater. Its his.”

There was a sudden gasp, then Mrs Blackthorne asked, “Then you do have one in the house.”

I could tell Joel was becoming exasperated when he replied, “Yeah so? Actually we have three, what’s wrong with that?”

“You have three?” Mrs Blackthorne’s tone implied that she was about to faint, as she reiterated in a strained voice, “You have three?” Then because she wanted to get her facts straight, I guess, she asked, “Do you know what sort they are?”

“There’s two big ones and a small one.” Joel told her, “Hold on I’ll go take a look.” While he was gone the recording picked up Mrs Blackthorne speaking to Mrs Duncan, something about there being three anteaters and that he was going to check on the breed?

When Joel returned, he told the caller, “One’s a creature (I’ve told him since that he needs glasses – it was actually a Creda) and the other two are er…sorry I can’t tell you.”

Mrs Blackthorne jumped on that straight away. “Can’t tell me, why not?”

“Er…Hang on.” Joel obviously left and returned to say, “They’re hot points.”

Mrs Blackthorne laughed derisively, “I think you must mean sore points. Obviously you aren’t supposed to tell anyone about them, Joel, and neither was David. Tell your mother she will be hearing from the authorities about this and to expect a call from the RSPCA later today.”

“The RSPCA, what’ve they got to do with it?” Joel’s confusion was evident.

“Just pass on the message please, Joel. Goodbye.” The line went dead before he had a chance to reply and I found him holding the telephone and staring at it as I came in the door moments later. “It doesn’t bite,” I told him, as the expression on his face was one of anxiety.

“It’s not that.” He replied, “I’ve just had the weirdest telephone call.” And after playing back the tape I was as perplexed as he. What on earth was going on?

Still it was that time of day when everything seems to happen at once and though the matter was at the back of my mind as I prepared dinner, I wasn’t forcefully reminded of it until the evening when someone knocked at the door.
Now that might not be as mind blowing to some people as it is to us, but where we live in the back of beyond, someone knocking on our door in the evening is as remote as a green sunset, and we all froze. “Who can that be?” My husband asked looking up from his newspaper.

“I don’t know.” I replied nervously, “Why don’t you go and see?”

“Can’t you do it?” He asked refusing to leave the comfort of his armchair.

“It might be an axe murderer. It would be better if you went.” I told him.

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” He asked, actually leaving the chair and crossing the room just as the knocking became more persistent. He froze on the spot took one look at me and went back to his chair. “You get it.” He said. “Its probably someone for you anyway.”

“Oh I’ll get it.” Joel brushed past me, “I’m going out to see da rain anyway.” For the life of me I couldn’t understand what he’d said but forgot about that in the heat of the moment.

“It’s the police.” He called seconds before I heard his moped start up. He was naturally making a quick get away for in the past when the police had called it was usually something to do with him.

Still the announcement had had the required effect as far as my husband was concerned, I never even saw him go past me, but suddenly there he was at the door inviting the officers in.

I’ve always been amazed at how one policeman in a normal living room seems domineering but when you are suddenly faced with two in your domain then let me tell you that is very disconcerting. I suddenly felt very small beneath their gaze, although I have to admit much of it flitted around the room as if they were looking for something.

Out of our three children, one was at university one was at school and Joel at work in the day and out with his mates at night often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’d started to wish he’d find himself a girlfriend, hoping she would help mend his ways. We’d been unable to, hence the reason for my husband’s sudden comment; “What’s he done now?” He asked naturally assuming Joel was the reason for their call.

“Who?” One of the officers replied declining my offer to sit down which only served to unnerve me further.

“I suppose you are here about Joel?” I asked speaking my husband’s thoughts out loud.

“Joel? No,” one laughed. “Not this time.” The laughter died and he became very serious, “We are here to ask you both some questions.”

My husband, Paul and I looked at one another blankly, both wondering what the other had been up to.

“Firstly, you do realise that it is illegal to keep wild animals in a residence such as this? I know that you have a farm with cattle and the usual farmyard animals, but you do know that you should not keep such animals as one would usually find in a zoo on your property much less in your house, don’t you?”

We laughed at least I know I did. “Please sit down.” I felt awkward beneath their steady gazes. Thankfully they sat and I told them, “I understand what you are saying but I don’t understand why you are telling us this.”

“Neither do I.” Paul told them obviously perplexed. “Has someone lost a wild animal?”

“No. At least there have been no reports of such. No, the reason we are asking you this is because we have reason to believe that you are keeping three wild animals on the premises.”

“Three Wild Animals!” We cried together, “That’s ridiculous, who told you that?”

“Oh do you mean our children?” I added seeing the funny side.

One of the officers grinned and checked his notepad, “Actually,” he told us “it was your son, Joel.”

“I knew he’d be involved in this somewhere,” my husband replied angrily, “Where has he gone?”

That reminded me, “He said he was going out to see the drain either that or out in the rain. I couldn’t decipher what he actually said.” The two officers looked at one another and then regarding me closely one said, “Obviously he’s gone to move the animals. We shouldn’t have let him leave the premises. What is the registration number of his motorcycle?”

Now believe it or not, Joel had only bought that motorcycle three days earlier and I hadn’t a clue what the registration number was, neither could I show them the registration documents as they had been sent away by the previous owner, and Joel had the tear off slip in his wallet, but somehow I didn’t think the police would believe me if I told them that. I tried, but as expected they looked down their noses at me as if mine was about to grow ten feet from the lie I had just told them.

“Excuse us.” They stood as one, moved as one and spoke between themselves out of earshot in the conservatory before one of them returned to tell us, “We have arranged for an officer to spend the night in surveillance on your property. Then when it is daylight we will have a warrant to search your outbuildings. The animals may have been moved but if we find anything that shows that they have been kept here, you will be required to attend a court hearing whereupon you may be fined for illegally keeping wild animals without a permit to do so.” Before either my husband or I had a chance to say anything, the officer held up a hand to silence us with and continued, “however, that isn’t the end of it. It has been brought to our attention that your youngest son, David has in fact slept with one of these animals and the NSPCC will be contacting you shortly regarding this allegation.”

That terrified me. RSPCA? No problem. NSPCC? Big Problem. I suddenly had horrifying visions of them taking my children away from me. My husband obviously had a similar thought when he said, “Well they can take Joel, but no way are they taking David away from us!” In a nutshell, I think the officers were left in no doubt that teenage Joel and his dad did not see eye to eye.

The rest of the evening went by in a haze. One of the two officers remained behind while the other arranged for a surveillance officer and made out his report. I know that I tried to make conversation with the remaining officer but he was reluctant to talk, and when the telephone rang he answered it, and though it was for me, he would not allow me to take the call.
Thus, we felt like criminals in our own home and what was worse we couldn’t understand what it was all about. The only animals we kept were a few cows some chickens two cats and two red and white Border Collies, all of which lived in sheds around the farm. There was only one cat that was allowed inside the house, and never was she permitted to go up into the bedrooms, so whatever they meant when they said that David had slept with one of the animals left us completely perplexed. In fact, the whole thing left us stunned. I felt as though I was dreaming, you know that feeling when everything seems way off the planet and everyone else is crazy except you? Well I had that feeling, big time.

When Joel came home, he was quizzed to the point of aggression. Tired, wanting to go to bed, needing to be up early for work he was in no mood for stupid questions about wild animals. He had never taken an interest in the farm and we might have kept Bengal Tigers for all he knew. Unfortunately, he said that and you should have seen the officer’s face when he did!
By laughing, I guess I didn’t help matters either, since Joel’s quip, I know, came from an incident several years before when a travelling circus had called to ask if they could keep lamas on our property and had then told us that they also owned Bengal Tigers. At the time, we had been having trouble with trespassers and had joked that they could forget about the lamas but we’d have the tigers on our land instead - strange how things come back to bite you when you least expect it.

It was difficult getting any sleep that night. Neither of us wanted to go to bed so we dozed fitfully in armchairs while David, blissfully unaware of what he had started slept soundly upstairs, and Joel could sleep through World War Three.
So when morning finally arrived and we moved groggily through to the kitchen to make a refreshing cup of tea, we were stunned to hear someone knocking at the door that early in the day. This time, my husband went to answer it without stalling.
He soon returned, his face ashen and telling me, “There are some strange looking men out there in white coats and cages, I think they’ve come for you.”

“Very funny,” I told him moving past to take a look for myself, only to find he had spoken the truth, well almost, they hadn’t come to take me away to the funny farm. Thought at that moment I felt very much as though I was already at it.

“Are you Mrs. Robinson?” One of the men in white coats asked as he saw me propping up the door, honestly I was that tired, I replied in the affirmative and asked if I could help him.

“Can we leave these here?” He asked indicating the three large cages with a nod of his head.

Tempted to ask would he move them if I refused, I refrained from the quip and told him ‘yes’. However, I was no more helpful than that and was about to close the door when a police car drew into the drive and a plain clothed officer got out. Thus I waited until he reached the door, inviting him in when it appeared that’s what he expected.

Inside, my husband had made the tea and was busy munching his cereal, how he could stomach food at a time like this beat me. It would be hours before a hunger pang hit me. He did, however, lay down his spoon when he saw the new officer step into the living room although the fellow rudely ignored the both of us. That annoyed me. This was our home, yet he had walked in as if he owned the place, gracefully waving a piece of paper beneath my nose and mentioning the word ‘warrant’, as if he thought he shouldn’t have needed to produce one in the first place. That done he barked his orders “Is their son awake?”

“Before the overnight officer could reply I asked, “Which one?” Joel would be getting up any time and I knew that David would be asleep for another hour or so.

The new officer turned to face me as if he had only just noticed I was there and answered, “The youngest one. We don’t seem to have received much help from the rest of you, but then that was to be expected.”

I quietly fumed as I replied, “He’ll still be asleep. He doesn’t need to get up for another hour yet.”

The fellow glared at me. “Another hour? We haven’t got another hour. Go and wake him up now.” He snapped abruptly.

“But it’s six o’clock in the morning!” A stern glare met my exclamation, making me feel very foolish and small. Still on no account did I want my young son subjected to this monster’s questioning and I protected him as a mother bear, steadfast and aggressive. “I will wake him at seven, and if you have a problem with that, then it’s too bad.”

I thought he might blow a gasket, but he simmered down, reluctantly knowing I wouldn’t budge. We glared at one another a moment or two and then he turned and went outside closing the door firmly behind him.

“Phew.” A long low whistle followed his exit, and I looked up into the eyes of the officer who had stayed all night with us. “Do you know who that was?”

I shook my head then told him, “Some pigheaded fellow, he didn’t even give his name.”

Nervously the officer laughed, “He’s our Chief Detective Inspector.” He told me, “I’ve never seen anyone refuse his orders before. You will need to apologise.”

“Then you’ve never seen him try to come between a mother and her child before.” I told him. “I only did what any caring parent would do, and besides all of this is a big mistake, as he will find out to his humiliation, and then we will be expecting some very big apologies around here.”

The officer looked at me hesitantly, I could see that he was wondering if I spoke the truth or not and maybe he would have made conversation but just at that moment both Joel and David came downstairs.

“You’re up early little rabbit.” I told my youngest son as he walked bleary eyed into the living room and flopped himself down onto the sofa.

“Big rabbit woke me up.” He replied speaking of his brother and making us laugh. “Why are the police here?”

“That’s what we would like to know.” His dad told him, “Apparently they are here because of something you told your teacher. David, why did you tell her that we had some anteaters?”

In front of the officer, David replied innocently, “We do have some. We have three.”

“Just a moment.” The officer held up one hand toward David, “Don’t say another word, I’ll just call the governor.”

“And I’ll just go collect the eggs and let the chickens and dogs out, if you don’t mind.” He walked with me unable to say if that would be acceptable since he did not know what breed of dogs we had. I guess he thought that Pit Bulls or Dobermans might hinder the operation. Suddenly I wished we had some.

Out in the yard however, our collies came to meet me, someone had already let them out. I went to investigate. Stepping through into the dim interior of the barn I found to my dismay several men in white coats sifting beneath the floorboards. “The only thing you’ll find down there are woodlice.” I told them then with a hint of sarcasm added, “Oh perhaps you will conclude that they are baby Armadillos?”

“Very funny, not. However, you might have snakes down here.” One of the men told me derisively without looking up.

“The only snakes on our property are you lot!” I snapped. I would have said more only at that moment I felt my elbow very firmly grasped and turned to find Detective Inspector Pighead at my side. Curtly he led me away and back to the house and I hadn’t even let the chickens out. Still I had a smug feeling inside. All this was going to go decidedly pear shaped soon leaving them all with egg on their faces.

Back at the house, Pighead finally introduced himself before he sat down to ask David some questions. “By the way, I don’t think I ever told you my name. Its D.I Hogg.”

‘Yeah, that would be right.’ I thought. I don’t think he noticed my smirk of delight and satisfaction and I wouldn’t have cared if he had. Its strange isn’t it how some people live up to their name?

With my son before him, Pighead… I mean DI Hogg, (was there a difference?) launched his first question. “Now David is this your work?” He held up a page of child’s handwriting. David looked at me before replying, his bottom lip was quivering and I told him that it was okay to answer the questions and with a whisper that was barely audible he told DI Hogg, ‘yes’.

“Now David I want you to think very carefully before answering the next question, as this is a very serious matter.” ‘Great, put the fear of God in him why don’t you?’ I thought.

David nodded, his eyes wide. In my arms his little body trembled. I wanted to hit DI Hogg, I was sure he didn’t have any children of his own and pitied them if he did.

“David, in this report you say that at night, your ant eater keeps you warm. Is that correct?”

David nodded.

“For the purpose of the Dictaphone, David has nodded.” DI Hogg announced to the little black recorder in his hand. We hadn’t noticed it earlier.

“Could you show us where the ant eater is, David?” DI Hogg asked, but David’s concentration was diverted by Joel who was signalling in the background and trying to get my attention, I looked up and mouthed, ‘what?’

Exasperated DI Hogg paused, switched off the Dictaphone, turned and glared at Joel. “What is it?” I asked my older son.

“Can I use your mobile phone? I want to send a text to da rain.”

Drawing my brows together I must have shown my confusion for Joel hesitated a moment then walked toward my handbag where I keep my mobile telephone. Suddenly I thought I knew what he’d said. “Sending a text to Bahrain, no you can’t use it, it will be too expensive!”

“Not Bahrain!” Joel exasperated, “I said da rain.”

“Is there a difference?” I asked as Joel made his exit with my telephone.

“Yes, I’m texting da rain. In this country!” He reiterated crossly.

I sighed, “Is it me or is my son da ranged? Where on earth is da rain?”

David giggled “Its not da rain.” He told me, “Joel said Lorraine. It’s his girlfriend.”

I sighed and told him, “That’s what I mean about the way you two speak.” And then suddenly it hit me! The penny had finally dropped. David’s spelling went with his Lincolnshire accent something that unlike mine, from the Essex area, we had often had fun with.

I started to laugh. DI Hogg was sat on his haunches in front of David wondering why I had a sudden fit of hysterics. By waving at me my husband tried unsuccessfully to quieten me down, and David, bless him, was grinning from ear to ear. “Oh David, you are priceless.” I told him when I could finally speak. “I know what ant eaters are!”

Dryly, DI Hogg reminded me, “It would be preferable if you could know where they are, and then direct me to them.”

“I’ll do better than that.” I told him suppressing another bout of laughter. “You passed one on your way in.”

He jumped up, “I did? Where? When?” Quickly he strode out into the conservatory where we followed him.

“Where is it?” He barked looking all around.

“There.” I told him, “Beside you. It should have been switched off by now. You see we only use them on Economy Seven, too expensive otherwise. In fact…” And I deliberately began to speak slowly, “that’s why we don’t have any of our own… in the winter… we only borrow… David’s… aunt’s… heaters.”

The penny dropped. It was great to see it and hard not to laugh. A myriad of expressions chased their way across DI Hogg’s face, until the last one left him looking as though he might explode at any moment and sent him scurrying from the conservatory out into the yard to call off his men.

Behind me, I heard laughter and turned to see the all night officer chuckling merrily, “He’s never going to live this one down. If it’s any consolation several of us thought he acted too hastily over this matter. Should have checked his facts before he bothered you good people. His head is going to roll over this for certain. Thanks David, you’d done us all a favour. With a bit of luck he’ll resign.”

David grinned. He wasn’t certain what he had done right, but the praise felt good anyway. And from that day on his ant’s eaters, continued to keep his bedroom warm at night.